MyPlate: Focusing on Whole Grains

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

MyPlate is a fun tool used to identify the five food groups we should try to include in each of our meals. The point of MyPlate is to assist with making healthy lifestyle changes or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The five food groups featured on MyPlate are vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and diary. In past weeks we have discussed fruits and vegetables, this article will dive into grains and how to focus on making half your grains whole grain.

Some examples of grain products are bread, pasta, oatmeal, rice, cereals, and tortillas. There are two subgroups of grains: whole grains and refined grains.

Whole grains consist of the entire grain kernel while refined grains go through a process that removes many of the vitamins and fiber. Whole grains are whole-wheat flour, brown rice, oats, bulgur, whole wheat pasta and many more. Refined grains are white flour, white bread, and white rice. We should be swapping out many of the refined grains in our diets with whole grains because whole grains provide more health benefits. Whole grains have more dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, and folate. They can also be linked to better weight management.

The best way to determine if a grain product is a whole grain is to read the ingredients. If a product is a whole grain it will have whole grain listed first. Many packages will say “honey wheat” or “multi-grain” and can still have mostly enriched or refined flour. To determine how many ounces of grain and the minimum amount of whole grains we should be consuming, see the ChoseMyPlate Grains page. The amount of grains we need can vary by our age, sex, and level of physical activity.

Tips for Adding More Whole Grains Each Meal:

  • Swap traditional pasta for whole wheat pasta in dishes. If you want to slowly adjust, try serving half traditional pasta and half whole wheat pasta. This can work for rice as well!
  • Try whole grain bread, bagels, or English muffins.
  • Use whole grain flour when baking muffins, making pancakes and waffles, or other treats.
  • Add barley, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, or couscous to chilis, soups, and stews.
  • Snack on popcorn with just a little added salt and butter.
  • Read the ingredients when shopping for whole grain cereal.
  • Buy and snack on 100% whole grain crackers.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto and Vegetables

Serves 8

Serving Size: 21/2 cups

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes


  • ½ box (approximately 4 cups) 100% whole-wheat pasta (bow-tie or rotini)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 zucchini squash, sliced
  • 2 yellow squash, sliced
  • 2 broccoli heads, chopped
  • 5 – 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup basil pesto
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese


  1. Cook the pasta according to directions on box. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add minced garlic. Add all vegetables and sauté for a few minutes until tender.
  3. Mix in the basil pesto, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.
  4. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and serve.

Nutrition Info: serving size: 2½ cups, calories: 396, carbohydrates: 33 g, fiber: 8 g, protein: 11 g, fat: 27 g, sodium: 526 mg

This recipe is from the program Med Instead of Meds. The program was created by a group of nutrition and health professionals from NC State University and NC Division of Public Health. See the website for more recipes and info: Med Instead of Meds

Image from: HeartInsight